Revolts and Rebellions
News reports and images of protests and rebellions from all over the world frequent the print media these days. From Santiago to Beirut, Algiers to Hong Kong, a wave of popular protests is shaking the world. In all the latitudes, people have gone into revolt against their rulers. The contexts are obviously very different. Authoritarian regimes as well as neoliberal democracies are targeted. In Algiers and Cairo, the revolt is aimed against a state confiscated by the army, while the Chinese oppression has detonated Hong Kong. In Santiago, Beirut and Baghdad, the collusion between political power and money power is rejected. Even France, the old Republic, is now challenged by the ‘yellow vests’.
But the common strains in all these popular uprisings are obvious: not only slogans and methods — peaceful street rallies, use of social networks — but especially the rage against the seizure of power and wealth by a class, a caste or a mafia. The trigger often appears to be an economic decision that is a priori innocuous, but deemed unbearable. In Chile, the increase in the price of the metro ticket added fuel to fire, in Ecuador and France, it is the increase in fuel prices, in Lebanon, charging WhatsApp communications has spilled over. Lacking leaders, unguided by an ideology, these uprisings all put forward claims of dignity and equality and call for a change of the system. Yet, paradoxically, protesters denounce the inequalities linked to globalisation while benefitting from the momentum and the global echo of their revolts.
It would be tempting to analyse many of these social tremors as Act II of globalisation and a questioning of neo-liberalism. The domination of economic dogmas and the triumph of the market have resulted in abysmal inequalities, the weakening of social safety nets and the collusion of political and economic elites. The protests are against systems that deny social mobility in absence of proximity to political power, reduce taxes of the rich and increase the burden of the poor. Financial crises, economic slowdowns and all-round visibility offered by the Internet make the situation volatile, accelerating the malaise of representative democracies while destabilising authoritarian regimes.
Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which may have emerged as the triumph of a market-driven conception of the world, the wind of revolt seems to announce a backlash. We should welcome these changes hoping they would lead to a rebalancing of powers, political and economic, thus offsetting the inequalities of income and opportunities and building of states that are more concerned with the well-being of the common man rather than that of their leaders. The path is narrow and the ambition immense, since it is nothing less than reinventing democracy. But all the revolts seem to lead to that path.